I never even saw him coming. I was trying to orient myself and figure out where I was going. I heard a yip and looked up to see a blur of black whizzing past me. I turned to see what, or, I suppose who, it was when suddenly I'm sent spinning. I almost got myself into a fight, then and there. The black blur bounded back to me when it realized I had caught its pursuer. It, or should I say he, turned out to be Mikey, the bassist for a local hardcore band with a penchant for pyromania. The pursuer was a Canaan hound, a friend of Mikey's, polite, well-groomed, but with depths hiding behind his dark glasses.
I growled at them and stormed off to orientation. A week later I was in my ethics class, edging towards my seat when I felt a gaze settle on me. I'm not big on the metaphysical, but I could actually feel his gaze out of a crowd of hundreds. I took my seat and tried to ignore the feeling, difficult as it was. I had planned on confronting whoever it was, but when class let out I lost the feeling. I had just finished packing my notebook and pen into my backpack and stood up to find the Canaan hound standing in front of me. I shifted my backpack on my shoulder and flipped my braid behind me.
"Umm, hello." I said, tentatively.
"Hi, yourself," he replied in a low rumble. "I was wondering if you were planning on recording the lectures?"
I blinked, trying to figure out what was going on. "I hadn't planned on it. I can usually get by on just my notes."
He nodded like I had answered with something deeply philosophical that should be meditated on. Suddenly he stuck out his paw, "James Wright. I wanted to apologize about the other week. Mikey was causing trouble as usual."
I nodded and shook his paw, feeling slightly confused. "Nice to meet you James. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go. I have to be at work in a half hour."
James had a bit of a bad boy look about him. He wore only dark colors, but that made his golden fur stand out that much more. He always wore such dark glasses that made you wonder what was behind them.
James invited me to a concert. His friend Mikey's band, The Reavers, was playing at a local club. It was unexpected, but a pleasant surprise. I fluttered about my room nervously, trying to figure out what to wear. Anne came home and noticed me pacing.
"Huh? Oh. A guy from my ethic class invited me to a concert." I finally sat down on my bed, trying to calm down
She grinned. "Cool, who are you going to go see?"
"The Reavers. They're playing over at Spikes."
"The Reavers? Really? Cool. They are so energetic. They're really big around here."
I looked up at her. "Would you like to come with us?"
Anne smirked at me. "Nervous?"
I nodded; this was my first date. "James is friends with the bass player, I'm sure he can get an extra ticket."
"Really?" she asked. I nodded. Anne smiled and turned towards her room.
"Where are you going?" I asked, standing back up.
"To get dressed. Do you want me to pick out an outfit for you, too?"
"Could you please? I have no idea what to wear." I took a step back so Anne could come in and get to my closet. She rifled through my closet making disapproving noises.
"Aha!" she proclaimed victoriously and stepped back. She turned around to show me what she had chosen. Black jeans and a bright red tank top. I stared in horror.
"Why not?" she asked.
"First of all, that tank top is way too small, and the color looks horrid on me. You can actually take it if you want. I don't even remember why I have it. As for the jeans, they were on the bottom of that pile for a reason. They are beginning to fade and they have holes in them. You know I only wear them when I'm working in the garden."
"That's the reason the jeans are perfect. I'll go through Mike's shirts and see if we can find you something more appropriate. If not, you can always run over and borrow something from Ibish." I nodded, grumbling slightly. "You do have a black bra, right?"
I waved over to my dresser and told her to choose something. I might as well let her do everything. James knew me well enough that he'd know this wasn't me.
"I'd rather not borrow anything from Mike, if you don't mind." I smiled sheepishly. "I'm still not used to him and..." I trailed off, and Anne nodded. She shooed me off to Ibish's to raid his closet.
Ibish is a Monitor lizard who lived a couple of doors down. He is one of the few people whose size intimidated even me. He was a paw shorter than I was, but he was big! The bulk was all muscle, too. Ibish didn't need to work out; he was just built that way.
There are three houses of friends within two blocks. We cycle through and share things. Kirk, Salowa, and Ibish all attended Bard University together, and now share the house I would be heading to. Anne, Mike, and myself are in a big house in the middle of the circle. The Cat Tree, with Tib, LaDonne, and Henry, was a little farther away. I'm very happy that I've found myself a nice little community with everything within walking distance. Well, almost everything. School was about a 20-minute bus ride away, but still close enough for comfort.
I trotted over to the Bard house. Salowa was home, but not Ibish. "Hey Sal. Can I raid Ibish's closet?" She nodded and padded back to her studio. I was impressed; it must be a big project she was working on. Normally, we would have chatted for about five minutes before she slid away. I shrugged and padded into Ibish's room and sighed. I didn't know what I should be looking for. I went to his shirt drawer and rifled through it. I grabbed a hunter green muscle shirt and headed back home.
"Thanks Sal!" I called out to let her know I was leaving. I also left a note for Ibish to let him know what I had borrowed.
I got back home and showed Anne the shirt I had chosen. She pursed her lips and nodded. She had taken a shower while I was out and her fur was bushed out. She was wearing tattered jeans, a black T-shirt with the collar ripped out and the sleeves torn to ribbons. Her jacket was lying on the stool.
The concert would start at nine, but James was picking me up at 7:30. The clock chimed 7:00, and I looked at Anne. She shooed me into the shower and laid out my clothes. I was out of the shower within 15 minutes, but my hair was tangled. I didn't have time to brush it out and braid it like I normally do. I took the brush to Anne. She had my hair brushed and was braiding the last part of it when the doorbell rang.
"It's open!" we both called. James peered around the doorframe and smiled when he saw me. I was sitting on my feet, with Anne's paws wrapped around my hair. I started to get up when Anne tugged me back down.
"Umm..." James appeared slightly confused by my new look.
"James, this is my roommate, Anne. Anne, this is James. I've told you about him." James took a step forward, his paw out.
"I kind of have my paws busy," she said, giving my hair another tug. "Otherwise I would shake you paw."
"Ow!" I hissed. "Are you almost done? Oh. James, I wanted to ask if it was alright if Anne could meet us at the concert?"
James smiled and nodded, setting a ticket on the coffee table. "I was kind of expecting you to ask. Anyone else?"
I started to shake my head, then caught myself before Anne reminded me. "Umm, no."
"There! You're all done! I will see you two lovebirds at the concert."
As James and I were about to leave, Anne gave me a hug and closed my paw around something. "For protection," she mouthed as she backed away. I slipped it into my jacket pocket to look at later.
James drove down to the waterfront area and found parking a couple of blocks from the bar where his friends were playing. I clung to James's arm because I had never been in such a rough neighborhood before. There was already a crowd by the time we got there. James stopped and greeted a few, but slowly made his way to the back door.
James and I arrived at the club. He was dressed in faded black jeans, a T-shirt that matched his eyes, and a black leather jacket with spikes and studs on it. His boots were taped and he had chains wrapped around his ankles. Next to him, I felt overdressed. I hadn’t come up with much when I raided Ibish's closet. I was wearing a hunter green muscle shirt, and my work pants. Jeans that were so threadbare I only wore them when gardening. I brought along the denim jacket that I had bought at a consignment shop on my last shopping trip with Anne. I was wearing a pair of black Converse high-tops and Anne had decked me out with strips of leather that were leftovers from Mike's current project. She had also done my makeup to emphasize my eyes. My hair was pulled into a dozen knobules with my white streak woven around them. I had slid on my biking gloves when we headed out my door.
James grinned at me. "You look good"
I nodded and walked closer to him, watching the crowd. There were raggedy kids with mohawks and more metal than cloth in their outfits. James shook his head and grabbed my paw, pulling me around to the back of the club. James handed me a lanyard with some badges that had the name of his friend’s band on them.
“Keep this with you at all times. This will let security know who you are. The Reavers have already done their first sound check. Doors open at 8; the opening band starts around 830. We go on sometime between 930 and 1000, then the mainliner closes. I should have you home around midnight or so unless you want to stick around and hang with the guys.” He told me all of this as we were walking up to the club. “Hold on a sec. Let me just put your roommate’s name in at will call so she can get in.” We stopped at the front door where he introduced me to a Rottweiler bitch named Sara, who would be working the door. We then walked back inside and James led the way backstage to where his friends were.
"C'mon. I want you to meet the guys before they go on." He pounded on the bathroom door. It was early yet, so the Reavers were playing cards and chatting with the opening band, Just Like Sister. James introduced me to the band and I smiled when I recognized Chip.
"Ishani, this is Mikey and Lauryn, or Grymm and Bones, if you want their stage names. Mike's the bassist, and Lauryn play drums." I nodded, and Mikey grinned at me. James continued around the room. "Sean, or Hex, keyboard and vocals. Val here is the mix-master. He goes by Da Funk." I smirked, and made a note to ask him about it later. "And Loki's in that pile somewhere."
I looked at the band. They were a study in black and white. Mikey and Sean were both black panthers, brothers, to tell the truth, but Sean was the elder by four years. They both had golden eyes, but Mikey's had a gleam of green and Sean's were more amber. It turned out that Lauryn and Chip were cousins, and had grown up together
“Hey. I didn’t know you knew James,” she said, smiling up at me.
I nodded. “We met in sociology last semester.”
“Cool. Is anyone else coming?” she asked, looking towards the door as if expecting them to walk in.
“Anne and Mike will be here after Mike gets home from work.”
Chip grinned and leaned back against the skunk whose lap she was occupying. “It’ll be great to see them at a show again. Val, I want you to meet Ishani. Ishani, this is Valden, “Da Funk” Valmont. He’s mix-master for the band.”
Valden was mainly mephit, but with an eighth of fox, thus the name Funk. "Besides," he said with a grin, "Skox just sounds ridiculous." I smiled back at him.
"And here I thought it was a reference to 'bring on da noise, bring on da funk'. Anyway, it’s a pleasure to meet you."
Chip looked up at the clock on the wall. “The doors open soon, I’ve got to go. I do merchandising for the Reavers. I designed their logo and I help with sales while they’re onstage.” She gave me a hug as she went out the door. “Enjoy the show!”
My creative writing class had just let out and I was heading to the campus center to get some lunch when I saw Mikey and James perched on a bench, chatting, not too far from the building I just left. I walked over and gave each of them a hug and sat down next to James. As we're talking James scoots around behind me so I'm sitting between his legs. I looked up at him and he smiled and nosed my forehead. I smiled softly and glance at Mikey. He winks at me. I mouth my thanks to him.
“James!” I said sharply trying to regain his attention. His head whipped around and he grinned sheepishly at me.
“Sorry, Ishani, something caught my eye. I thought I saw someone I recognized.”
I shook my head and started to explain the math problem again. We managed to work through a couple more, before he got distracted again. I looked up at him, then over to what he was staring at. James was staring at one of the bears on the football team with a half-smile on his muzzle. I glanced at the bear, then at James again, shaking my head in confusion.
“What’s his name?” I asked, not really expecting him to answer.
“Anthony.” James smirked as he turned towards me. He blushed and dropped his gaze, “Sorry hon. He’s in my psychology class.”
I shrugged not really caring what he was apologizing for. I was beginning to get irritated more easily when we were together. James had become a lot more distractible recently, too. I feared that this wasn’t going to end well, but I didn’t quite understand what was happening, or why.
I looked at my watch and started to pack up. “Look, since you don’t seem to want my help with math right now, I’m leaving. I’m going home so I can get some of my own studying done.”
James looked abashed, but didn’t get up. “I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch?” he asked. I nodded and left the library.
I was having a bad day. James and I had had an argument as was usual these days. I didn’t understand what was happening. Over the past month or so, he had broken most of our dates, or would start a fight when I did get to see him. When I asked him about it today, he just blew up at me.
“Listen babe, things have just been really stressful with my family recently. My mom has been pressing me to find a nice Canid girl and get married.”
I put my paw on his. “I know your mother hasn’t approved of our relationship since you told her about us. I still don’t understand what has changed to cause your recent foul moods.”
James pulled his paw away and stood up. “Look Ishani, I don’t want to talk about it! I’ve got to go get ready for work. I’ll call you, ‘kay?”
I just sat there running through the scene, wondering what I said wrong. Finally I headed out, deciding to hide for the rest of the afternoon. So I borrowed a book from Creative Minds, made some jasmine tea when I got home and went to my favorite hiding place. Mike and Anne were out on their monthly date night, so I knew that no one would be home for at least a few hours. I had time to collect my thoughts and calm down before they got back.
I climbed up the five or so meters to my perch in the tree. I’m glad we have such a large tree in the backyard. It is a good meditation spot and just fun to climb around. I settled in, fluffing the cushions I had dragged up months ago when I found this perch, and tried to clear the argument from my mind, tried to set aside the pain and confusion James had been causing me.
I had drunk half of my tea and was a quarter of the way through my book, when I heard Chip calling a greeting from the side gate. My tail twitched because I wasn’t ready for company yet, but I called. “I’m out back!”
I watched her come back, and look around confusedly. “Ishani? Are you learning ventriloquism?”
I laughed softly, and shifted, dislodging an acorn, which went hurtling down and bounced off her boot. “Hey! Watch…Oh! There you are. What’re you doing all the way up there?”
“Reading, enjoying the warm spring day. What do you need, Chip?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing really. Just got out of class and was wondering what was up over here. Hey, could you come down or something? I’m getting a stiff neck looking up at you.”
“I’m not ready to come down yet. Besides, it’s comfortable up here.” I said, settling back into the cushions. Chip sighed and took off her boots, she was actually going to come up and join me. I rolled back over to watch her ascent. She moved quite fluidly, which is understandable since she was half chipmunk. She climbed up to a branch above my perch.
“So, what’s wrong Ishani?” she asked, lying out prone on the branch. I shook my head and drank some tea. I scent-marked my place in the book and tucked it into my haversack. Even the book hadn’t provided the escape that I had wanted. “C’mon ‘Shani, talk to me. It can’t be anything worse than what I went through last year.”
I nodded, chewing on my braid tip. “I’m sure you’d understand better than I do what’s going on. It’s James.”
“Wait, which James? Mikey’s friend? The one I saw you with at the concert last fall?” she interrupted.
I nodded. “We’ve been dating for over six months now and it’s been great until recently. I rarely see him, either because his work schedule has him so busy or he has to do stuff with his family. When I do we start arguing over pointless things.”
Chip smirked. “Family. That’s a good one.”
I cocked my head. “I don’t understand.”
“Of course not kitten. Look, about James, don’t let him break your heart over this, okay? Listen, can we talk about this down there?” she asked pointing to the ground. “I really prefer having solid ground beneath my feet when having these types of conversations.”
“Fine…Wait! These types of conversation?” But Chip was already most of the way down the tree. “This is not funny Chip!” I leapt from branch to branch after her, leaving my haversack up in the tree. She had slowed to grab her boots, so I was able to grab her ears as she tried to dash away. “What is going on?” I growled at her.
“Look! All I know is what I’ve heard. You can ask Jon. He was there. If you want the full truth, ask James. Just don’t shoot the messenger.” She had flung her arms over mine trying to keep from dangling by her ears. I’m not sure if she was just trying to hold herself up, or if she was trying to pull my arm down. “Please Shane just listen to me! I heard that James has been showing up at TD’s and has been all over some of the boys there. Owowowowow!” Chip howled as I shook her, and thumped her against the tree. “I swear to God it’s true! My friend Jon’s a bartender there. He saw James and thought he was hot. They flirted and Jon ended up asking James out on a date. This is why I didn’t want to tell you while we were up in the tree! Please lemme go! Please Shane?”
I growled and dropped her. She landed ungracefully and skittered away. Far enough that I would have to take a few steps to get my paws on her, but still in the confines of the yard. She continued to explain as she put her boots back on.
“I swear Shane, I didn’t know you guys were that serious. Otherwise I would have told JonJon not to ask him out.” I started to lunge for her again, but she dodged just out of reach. Blasted rodents!
“Keep talking Chip. You might as well tell me everything.” I sat down with my back against the tree trunk
“There’s not much to it than that. They went over to Annapolis, had dinner and just hung out. James was too nervous to do anything that could be construed as a date. Jon was griping about that.”
“Thanks Chip, for telling me this. Would you mind?” I motioned to the gate. “I need time to think.” A week later I was able to find out if it was true or not.
The morning had started off gray and cloudy, but as the sun moved farther to the west it broke up the clouds and took them with it. I remember looking up at that sky, wishing that my troubles could be taken as easily as the clouds.
James had met me outside of my US history final and suggested that we grab some lunch and have a picnic by the river so I could decompress. We sat and watched the rowing crew practice. After a few minutes James cleared his throat.
"Ishani, we have to talk." He had cleaned up the wrappers from our lunch and was sitting with his arms folded around one knee.
I smiled at him and sprawled next to him. "Sure, what's on your mind?"
A pained look crossed his face. "For a majority of my life, I have had self esteem issues. I’ve never been able to express myself openly or easily. I used to have a stuttering problem as a kid. I’ve never had many friends, as I was pretty much an outcast through elementary and most of high school. I was always the quiet kid you saw sitting alone. I was sometimes picked on, which did little for my esteem, but usually I was ignored. Things started to look up when I met the person who would become my best friend. His name is Mike and we met towards the end of my freshman year. We’ve helped each other through some tough and trying times. I don’t think I would be alive if it hadn’t been for the strength of his friendship.
“I’ve never had much luck with females. Mind you, there have been a plethora of girls I’ve liked or had crushes on, but I’m not eloquent or suave, so I tend to give up without even trying. I have a real problem with that. I’ve only ever had one girlfriend besides you and that was pretty much a fluke. We started hanging out, then after awhile she introduced the notion that we should start dating. I quite liked her by then, and couldn’t see any reason not to, so I agreed. Things went well for awhile. She was the first girl I’ve been with. Then one day in March I get a note from her and in it she tells me she doesn’t think we should see each other anymore. That she didn’t have the same feelings for me as I did for her. I can understand telling that to someone face to face or even in a phone call, but the letter was too impersonal. We had been dating for a year and I though I deserved a little more than that. I called her, a week later once it had sunk in, and she just repeated what the note said. I was pretty screwed up and depressed after that, and haven’t even been on a date since then. That was one of the tough and trying times that Mike got me through. For well over a year afterwards I felt quite empty inside. But as the saying goes, time heals all wounds.
“I just wanted you to know why, if you ever noticed pensiveness or insecurity when I’m around you. I still think sometimes I’m not good enough for anyone, or that if I try, things will only end badly. I wanted you to know that you are a wonderful, intelligent, cute, spectacular, beautiful person. And for the longest time I was enamoured with you, you helped me become more confident.
“Until I realized I was hiding from myself. You see, there's this guy..." James said, his brow furrowing. "And well, Ishani, I'm gay. You were my cover because I didn't want to come out to my parents. But then you fell for me, and things went farther than they should have. I'm sorry."
I sat there stunned, gazing blankly at the scenery in front of me. Chip had told the truth, James was dating guys behind my back. James leaned over and kissed me on the forehead before standing up and walking back towards campus. I just sat there staring at the river. After awhile I hugged my knees to my chest and started crying, which is how Mikey found me a couple hours later.
I looked up. Mikey was standing in front of me. "You okay, kitten?" He knelt down in front of me. "What happened?"
I shook my head. I couldn't talk. He drew the bandana off of his tail and reached to wipe my tears. I drew back and shook my head again. I couldn't tell Mikey. I couldn't tell him how much of a fool I had been. James had broken my heart and now his best friend was coming to pick up the pieces.
"Ishani?" He took my chin in his paw and made me look at him. His green-gold eyes searched mine, reading the pain that was etched in them. "Shit!" he swore softly, withdrawing his paw.
"Yeah, I know." I looked down, and laid my cheek on my knee. "James broke up with me this afternoon."
"I'm sorry, kitten." Mikey leaned forward and wrapped his arms around me, trying to comfort me. I couldn't help it. I started crying again. I don't knot how long we sat like that. Mikey just held me, murmuring comforting noises. Slowly I became aware of other paws on my shoulders and head. I looked up at Mikey and he kissed my forehead. He drew his arms back and wiped away my tears. I let him do it this time, I knew there were no more left. I looked up at those gathered around us. Lauryn was looking down at me, her paw on Mikey's shoulder.
"James?" she asked. I nodded and lowered my gaze. "He is so dead."
"Don't bother, Lauryn." I mumbled. Mikey's eyes widened and I had to laugh. "No, Mikey, I'm not that vindictive."
Someone behind me chuckled. "Ishani never harms people, only property." I turn my head and looked over my shoulder, recognizing that voice, but not expecting to hear it on this side of the ocean.
"XANDRA!" I leapt up and hugged her. "I thought you had been reassigned. That you couldn't contact me."
"Like I could leave you to get hurt. My spider senses tingled and I knew something was going wrong over here. I wanted to help make things right. I've missed you 'Jaya."
I started crying again. I had missed her so much! But these tears weren't as painful as the tears I had cried for James.
I walked up to the house and unlocked the door, waving Xandra to be quiet behind me.
"Anne's going to flip!" I whispered as I opened the door. "Hey, Anne?" I called out. "You home?"
"Yeah, I'm back in the kitchen, working on a new recipe," she called back. I sniffed the air and my mouth started watering. I caught a whiff of chocolate, and I think cinnamon. I headed towards the back of the house.
"Smells great. Is there some ready to taste test?" I asked, leaning against the doorway, hiding Xandra in the hallway. Anne nodded distractedly, flipping through one of her many cookbooks. "Oh, hey. I ran into a friend who's visiting from out of town, and I invited her over for dinner. I hope that's all right?"
"Cool. Beth?" she asked, going to the oven to check on the current batch. I moved to the side and let Xandra step forward.
"Not quite, prickles," Xandra said with a smile. Anne froze, then turned around slowly, eyeing Xandra. She stalked over to Xandra and motioned for her to lean down. Xandra did, smiling slightly. Anne sniffed along Xandra's jaw, then settled back, glaring at her slightly.
"It's about fucking time you showed up!" she growled. "I sent you that email two weeks ago!"
Xandra shrugged. "I had to tie up loose ends."
My jaw dropped. "Wait, what? You knew Xandra was coming?" I asked, totally confused.
Anne smiled sadly, handing me another brownie. "James called a couple of weeks ago and asked my advice. He didn't want to hurt you. I told him to wait until I made sure you wouldn't go on a rampage." I frowned at this and Anne shrugged. "Alex told me about Duncan. I..." she shrugged. "I've seen you break stuff after you two had gotten into arguments. I didn’t complain because I knew having the extra firewood was good. I didn't know what would happen when it was something this big." I grumbled a little, but didn't argue too hard. I did throw temper tantrums when James ignored me and didn't realize it.
I fall hard for the guys I like. First Duncan, now with James, two major rejections by the guys I actually opened myself up to. I had a vast emptiness where James used to be. The wound was too recent to try and deal with this conspiracy also.
At James was kind enough to wait until after finals to decide he couldn't handle being in a relationship. Now I wouldn't have the agony of seeing him day after day in class, trying not to cry. I sighed and shook my head to clear it. I've hone down this road with Duncan. I didn't need to let James pull me into this spiral of self-pity and self-doubt. I had friends that cared, the proof of that was standing in the kitchen with me.
I looked down at the gooey brownie and popped it into my mouth, losing all thoughts except the heaven that Anne had made. "Mmmm," I said, relaxing. "If I have one of these each day for the next month, I think life might actually be worth living." I smiled at Anne and Xandra. "Thanks you guys." I grabbed another brownie and trotted upstairs to my room, to sort things out.